Inanna and the Giant Excerpt
Excerpt from Inanna and the Giant
c: 10,900 BCE
A large carnivore, probably a cave lion, loped across a distant meadow, stopping once to sniff the air.
The human hunter knelt at the edge of a drop-off, surveying the meadow and a lush green forest below. High above, ice stretched into the sky, covering the entire mountain range. Down where the hunter watched, the ice was thinner and covered in snow. The air was cold and crisp. There were trees and bushes and patches of bare ground. To the left, a small waterfall trickled. Lower down, water joined with other streams to form a small creek. Much farther down, the creeks combined to form a river which flowed into wide, rolling plains, and eventually emptied into the great sea.
Prey was plentiful down there, near the plains. But the hunter dare not venture that far. Where river met sea was the city of Giants. A city that stretched out as far one could see along the coast also stretched, it seemed, equally as high into the sky. These Giants farmed the plains and kept their domesticated animals there. They did not like hunters from the mountain tribes intruding.
The hunter gazed at a faint and far distant glow from the many tall, thin buildings of the Giant city. Darkness was not, to them, an enemy. The glow of their great city fought against darkness and, within its confines, won.
The hunter lived in a small tribal village, nestled against mountains among the snow and ice. At night, the villagers had no light, except the faint remnant embers of wood fires.
Those mysterious Giants who occupied the city actually averaged only slightly taller than the hunter. They were giants not in stature, but because of the lights in their city, the sky-reaching size of their buildings, because of the way they could climb into beasts and fly, the way their boats let them conquer the sea and its bounty of fish. If the hunter ventured too far down the slopes, into open grasslands, the Giants would know. They would confront her and send her back up to where she belonged. Or kill her, perhaps. For her people, the mountain people, the grasslands were taboo.
Her tribe scratched out a precarious existence, in biting cold, just below the massive wall of ice. Along with numerous other individual hunter-gatherer tribes that populated the mountains, they subsisted on little, unless they found an elk or a mountain goat. Many of her people died of disease or in childhood, in wars or hunting accidents. Those who survived were hardy, slender but strong. All except the chief who, in his later years, had become rather rotund.
The Giants, on the other hand, ranged from tall and thin all the way to a few who were very fat. The hunter knew this because she sometimes sneaked close to the City and observed its occupants. She’d found a way along the river, and if she kept below the bank and followed the rushing water, the Giants did not detect her. If she had eaten well and did not need to hunt, she would lie in her hiding place near that wondrous city for hours and watch the Giants go about their lives, much busier and more complicated than hers.
She learned many things that other members of her tribe did not know. Giant children were playful and loud, laughing and screaming in their play. In her tribe, children were quiet and played almost silently. Cave bears and packs of wolves, and sometimes worse, hunted the upper lands. They found children to be soft and tasty, and easy to catch. Relations among various tribes in the mountains were not always friendly, and sometimes they fought each other for food or territory, or for slaves. A tenuous existence did not deter this hunter from wondering and exploring, an attribute that set her apart from others of her village.
She learned the Giants had a range of skin color. Some of them were as dark, or even darker than she and her fellow tribe members. Others were pale and pasty, but the majority were somewhere in between. She never got close enough to determine eye color. She was curious because hers were a brilliant blue, which contrasted with her curly black hair and brown skin.
The rest of the tribe, other than her little brother, sported uniform brown eyes, with only slight variations in shade. When she was born, her father had interceded with the Shaman, who wanted her killed as a defective. Because of those cursed eyes. He had interceded once again, several years later, for her brother. He succeeded, but his efforts had set them both apart from the rest of their people. They were never fully accepted, treated with mild but underlying contempt and an ever-present suspicion. This suspicion carried over to her parents, who were normal in every way except that they had produced two blue-eyed freaks.
The hunter learned that, unlike her people, Giants enjoyed laughing, talking and communicating with each other. They spent much time in their tall buildings. From her hiding place, she could sometimes see them through the windows. They often entered small beasts, some looking like giant turtles, which then sped them off to somewhere else over smooth flat roads. There were hundreds of the beasts. With these, and the flying things and the ships at sea, the Giants’ city was a nest of humming activity. Their lights held back the night. Unlike the hunter’s tribe, Giants feared nothing.
The hunter, by her estimate, was 16 years of age. In her opinion she was not appreciated by her tribe. She was, in fact, a nuisance. Hunters were typically male, and only the strongest and quickest were successful. This outcast blue-eyed female dared hunt like the men. Worse, dared to call herself She-Wolf.
She had become a hunter after her father was killed by a mammoth, leaving her, her mother, and her small brother no way to secure food. So she became a hunter. A year ago, she had tracked and killed an injured cave wolf. She’d presented its carcass to the tribe elders as was required, but kept the pelt for herself, another dubious affront to tribal custom. Hunters were expected to present prized pelts to the chief, which he used to line and insulate his hut, or, rarely, present to loyal tribesmen as gifts. He had grudgingly accepted the body of the wolf, and waited expectantly, to be presented with a new pelt.
The hunter had spent many hours preparing and curing that pelt, and it was her prized possession. Besides, the Chief already had a half-dozen wolf pelts. She had gazed at the chief, and then, defiantly, swung the pelt over her thin shoulders, its wolf head resting atop hers. The chief had grunted and turned away, presenting her with both the tribe’s displeasure and her new name: She-Wolf.
Since then, She-Wolf had become a mostly solitary hunter, successful enough to provide food for her immediate family. She occasionally joined male hunters, and from time-to-time assisted in the taking of an elk or deer, although she was not usually privileged to share in such bounty. But typically, she hunted alone and thus knew the terrain of her tribe’s territory better than any of the male hunters. She-Wolf was curious and spent time in solitary exploration, whereas the males hunted in groups and were only interested in finding prey and protecting their territory.
She-Wolf carried a spear much longer than her stature would suggest. Made herself, its tip was razor-sharp obsidian, as one of the older teenage hunters found out when he tried to take it from her. Unlike the men, she carried a small knife. The males carried larger knives and shorter spears, some of them launched with atlatls. The more skilled hunters had fashioned bows with crude, though effective, arrows.
She-Wolf was proficient with her spear since it was used primarily to impale squirrels, rabbits, rats, an occasional fish and, rarely, larger prey. She made an imposing figure, standing on an outcropping, spear butt down on the rock, its finely-worked ash shaft in hand, its glistening point a full two feet above her head.
None of the unattached males showed interest in her, and she had begun to wonder if she would ever find a mate, be-come a mother, and relinquish her role as a hunter. Most of the tribe’s females her age had already found mates, and a couple were pregnant. Females mated early, and as quickly as possible, added members to the tribe. Death, also, came early for most. Their lifestyle used them up quickly, and few made it to old age.
Her age was more of a guess than an absolute, as the tribe elders’ ability to keep track of time was haphazard at best. She-Wolf considered herself sixteen, but could easily have been a year, or even two, older, although she considered it unlikely. She wondered what her life would be like had she followed in the path of most tribal women; pregnant or already carrying a child on her hip.
Her frequent observations of the Giants was forbidden by the tribe as they feared retribution of the almost mystical city might be called down upon them. But She-Wolf persisted, keeping her explorations secret from the tribe and her presence hidden from the Giants. She would be away from home for days, and sometimes even longer if she had provided sufficient food for her family. Her furtive trips to the city of Giants could take up to a week getting there, and at least another week on the return.
Although wiser than her years might attest, She-Wolf was, essentially, a rebellious teenager.